Purpose: Physical therapist education programs strive to prepare their students for full-time clinical experiences in a variety of ways. Experiential and service learning in authentic contexts reportedly help students make connections between the classroom and the clinic. The purpose of this study was to explore the influences that service in a physical therapy pro bono clinic has on a first full-time clinical education experience.

Methods: Participants were all third year doctoral physical therapy students at Widener University who were entering their first full-time clinical education experience. Sixteen participants kept journals throughout their first full-time clinical experience regarding the impact of their previous pro bono experience. Upon completion of the 10-week full-time clinical experience, the sixteen participants answered a Likert-scale survey to further delineate the influence of the pro bono experience, and fifteen of the participants participated in focus group discussions to further explore themes that emerged from the journal and survey data. Data from the focus group and journals were analyzed qualitatively. The responses from the surveys provided quantitative data. In addition, the researchers looked at the Clinical Instructors (CI) midterm comments on the APTA’s Clinical Performance Instrument (APTA PT CPI WEB) to further corroborate or disconfirm the findings.

Results: Triangulation of the data points revealed 9 categories of positive impact that the pro bono experience had on their first full-time clinical experience. The strongest three categories in order were client interaction, clinical instructor interaction, and professional communication. The next five categories were of relative equal strength and related to specifics areas of competency. They were competency in documentation, evaluation, intervention, clinical reasoning and cultural competency. A final overarching category was increased confidence. CI comments on the midterm CPI corroborated these findings. Participants also shared ways in which the pro bono experience could have better prepared them for their full-time clinical experience.

Conclusions: Regular participation in a pro bono clinic throughout the didactic portion of the physical therapy curriculum contributed to student confidence and competence in their first full-time clinical experience. Future research should include interviews with the clinical instructors to further corroborate the student perceptions. The findings of this study also serve to inform how the pro bono clinical experience can be enhanced to further contribute positively to the students’ first full-time clinical experiences.

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Daria Porretta, PT, DPT, conceptualized and designed the research study, refined survey questions, took notes in the focus groups and was responsible for qualitative analysis. Dr. Jill Black, PT, DPT, EdD, refined survey questions, led focus groups and was responsible for qualitative analysis. Dr. Kerstin Palombaro, PT, PhD, CAPS, was responsible for creating the survey and quantitative analysis. Dr. Ellen Erdman, PT, DPT, HPCS analyzed midterm clinical experience comments on the APTA PT CPIWEB instrument and refined survey questions. All authors were responsible for writing this article.





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